As hot as it was when we arrived last night, it was all set fair this morning to be just as beautiful today. Here, perhaps more than anywhere, a change in the weather changes the scenery quite dramatically. From clear blue skies to mountain tips fully shrouded in cloud, or ringed with cloud with the tips poking out into clear skies.
I started the morning with a trip to reception to get help with a document I needed printing. This bit wasn’t a problem. I signed it and then we tried scanning it…. I’m sure you can imagine the WiFi connection isn’t always the best up here (we’re having to take advantage of our Vodafone £3 per day package to use our home data). The scan didn’t work so I had to take pictures of my signed papers to send back! No problem, at least it’s all done now J
The campsite had provided a page with several suggestions for days out. Whilst we would have loved to have visited every single one of them we had to decide on just a few (as we’ve only got 2 full days here). So, we’ve settled on Lac du Gaube and the Pont d’Espagne today, and tomorrow we will do Gavarnie. We’re doing it this way round as we know it’s going to be hot today and much less so tomorrow – in fact we’re expecting rain. As Gavarnie involves a 2 hour trek into the mountains (and back) we think we’re better off doing that tomorrow.
We firstly decided to pop on a wash and to try to visit Lac d’Estaing while it was going (apparently just down the road) on our bikes, but just about half a mile out (and already a fair climb) I noticed that my battery was going (there is NO WAY I would make these climbs without help – respect to all the cyclists we’ve seen labouring up the mountains – although we do suspect that some of them wouldn’t actually have made it…) It also transpired that the Lac was much further away from the campsite (someone later told us it was 20 minutes by car). So we returned to the campsite, and as it happened by the time we got there the wash was almost done. Once we’d hung it up we were fit to go out for the day.
Off we went, back through the square at St Savin, past the Chapelle du Pietat, through Pierrefitte. Already we were in awe at the scenery and then we hit the windy roads running alongside the thundering rivers and waterfalls. We had to keep stopping! Shortly before our destination we passed through La Raillere, after Cauterets. Again we just had to stop. This is a spa area (I hesitate to call it a town as it was just a collection of buildings really!) The smell hit me when I got out of the car – but then I realised (backed up by a sign I translated..) that it was, of course, the minerals in the water.
Also on the way we had climbed part of the mountain via a series of switchbacks. Again, we’d been compelled to stop, and looking over a barrier we could see the old road below us – well, what was left of it anyway…
Next stop the Pont d’Espagne (which used to be the crossing point over into Spain. It’s now a 5 mile hike further on – although I would guess that’s probably a little less ‘as the crow flies’.
We chose to take the cable car and chairlift – that’s the cable car up to the Pont d’Espagne (those of you who are on my Facebook have already seen a couple of photos from here) and then onto the Chairlift to go up to the Lac de Gaube. Don’t you worry, there was plenty of walking involved too!
The Pont d’Espagne is a lovely area – again with thundering waterfalls. The spectacle is awe-inspiring, the noise is immense and the water is cold. You literally can’t stop watching the water. When you stand downstream there are a couple of points where the waterfalls create their own rainbows.
(I’ll warn you now, we’ve been watching Gavin and Stacey right from the beginning…..)
The views are just immense, and they get even better the higher we go. Sorry if we overshare on pictures! As I said on FB it was a lovely spot for lunch, although Calv wasn’t impressed with his ham and cheese ‘sandwich’ (a baguette of course). ‘It’s not really a proper sandwich is it?’ he says ‘That’s not the sort of ham and cheese we get at home..’ “Yes, that’s because we’re in France, my sweet!’
I had a crepe (when in France) this time with chocolate. Very dark chocolate. They didn’t have any rose so I opted for a Sangria – it was VERY strong!
We did manage to get to the restaurant just in time, as just as we got our food a few coachloads of mature women arrived (just women).
After a few more photos we followed the signs for the chairlift. I’d managed not to think about this too much until we were sat and moving. Then I started stressing about coming back down. I really can’t imagine skiing down these mountains or getting on one of these chairlifts with skis. I think that’s something I’ve just scrubbed off my bucket list. Unless we just come for a couple of days and stick to the nursery slopes?…
It was a fair way up, and slow. As we neared the top there was an older couple getting on to come back down. With their dog;… We didn’t get a picture as we thought it would be a little rude!
On the way up we spotted a rescue helicopter which we thought, at first, was actually on a rescue. But we saw it moving about to so many different locations over the next hour or so that we decided it was on a training exercise. Until a little later that is (more later).
From the chairlift it was about half an hour walk (more like a hike really; these are paths but they are still mountain tracks). The lake and surrounding scenery is truly lush and the restaurant/café beside it was fully open (we’re finding a lot of places are still closed) so, after appreciating the lake, taking photos and sitting on rocks etc, we sat and had a beer and an ice cream (just me!) We then set the timer on the camera and took this photo J
You can’t walk all the way around this particular lake, but we could see that there were people at the other end, where there appeared to be a little beach. You’re not actually meant to go in, and to be honest, the water is really cold, brrr….
We knew that the chairlift closed at 5.30 (and it turned out that the cable car closed at the same time), so we decided to set ourselves a time limit to get to the other end. I thought it would take about 10-15 minutes; Calv thought it would be twice that. It turned out that Calv was right as the path was much trickier than what we had experienced so far. We got about halfway before deciding to turn back due to timing.
As we were headed back towards the main path we again saw the helicopter, which was landing behind the café! They’re having a tea break – we thought. But then, as we walked along the main path I said to Calv, no they’re on a rescue, as I could see a couple of them on the path ahead tending to somebody. A few seconds later Calv said something more about them being on a tea break. No, I said, they’re on a rescue, look! (He always listens to me first time, not!)
They had the guy on a stretcher. It would appear that he’d broken his ankle, possibly from climbing up past the restraining fences on the mountainside and falling back down onto the path. We went past and waited with the other walkers who were headed the other way, as once the rescuers were ready they radioed the helicopter to come back to get them.
I cannot stress how impressive this rescue was. With nowhere to land and no space to drop a winch (we’d already seen them do this twice that afternoon – 1 time pulling back up a stretcher), the pilot balanced the tip of 1 skid on the edge of the path, and held it in place for a minute while the casualty was loaded on and then the rescuers themselves. There’s a video on FB. Unfortunately I can’t load it onto here.
Next was the obstacle of getting back on the chairlift and facing the downward direction of travel…. I tried to persuade Calv that perhaps we could walk? It was definitely doable (although we would probably have missed the last cable car as well!) It wasn’t an option anyway – he wasn’t having any of it L
Actually once on it was fine. At the very top I had the camera to point at things and take my mind off it, but once going it was actually quite relaxing! Although very high.
On the way back we stopped again in La Raillere to look in the shops. Unfortunately it was one of those places that looks much nicer than it actually is. Shame.
I think we managed to return to the campsite without any further stops. No I’m lying- we stopped at a little chapel just before St Savin – La Chapelle de Pietat. We took a few pictures and also of the view down into the valley below. Then back to the campsite for a salad (far too hot for anything else really).
While I was preparing it (I was doing hot chicken, bacon & mushrooms and new potatoes) Calv abandoned me to take a couple of beers down to our neighbours (Janice and John) as they’d provided us with a drink the night before.
After dinner we uploaded the photos from the camera and Janice and John came up and joined us. They wanted to see the photos. It was a really good evening – they’d been talking about perhaps swapping their caravan for a camper and seeing ours might just have tipped them over the edge. Or if John gets his way they’ll have a 10 foot broad beam barge – I don’t think he’s going to win that one!
All in all a brilliant first day!